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Oct 07, 2023

What a gas!

A week ago, Speaker Kevin McCarthy was king of the world. "Tonight we all made history," the California Republican announced after the bipartisan debt deal sailed through the House. "There's a whole new day here," he proclaimed.

He then proceeded to do the legislative equivalent of slipping on a banana peel, pulling down the drapes, knocking over a fully laden buffet and face-planting into the wedding cake.

Just six days after his triumph, a small band of right-wing zealots who opposed the debt deal used parliamentary tactics to bring proceedings on the House floor to a halt, in the first protest of its kind in more than two decades. They shut down the House for a couple of hours, then for the entire day, then for the next day. After 6 p.m. on Wednesday, House GOP leaders surrendered to the saboteurs with a whip notice: "Members are advised that votes are no longer expected in the House this week. … Thank you all for your patience."

The mutineers were in command of the ship. They blamed McCarthy for betraying them. McCarthy blamed Majority Leader Steve Scalise. Scalise blamed McCarthy. Negotiations went nowhere. And the People's House ceased to function.

Megan McArdle: Environmentalists have a blind spot in the debate over gas stoves

In truth, McCarthy had only himself to blame. The debt deal, which earned the votes of 2 in 3 Republicans and 4 in 5 Democrats, gave him a template for success. But instead of using it, he launched a doomed effort to win back the far right — with some gaslighting.

GOP leaders followed the classic culture-war script: conjure up a crisis — in this case, the canard that the Biden administration is coming to take away your gas stove — and then force votes on legislation to counter the nonexistent threat.

"That's what we’re seeing from the Biden administration, literally a plan to ban gas stoves," Scalise (La.) declared on Tuesday morning in a news conference on the upcoming votes on the Gas Stove Protection and Freedom Act and the Save Our Gas Stoves Act.

President Biden "has a war against gas stoves!" added Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.).

Biden "literally" has no such plan, other than the usual rules requiring higher efficiency in future appliance models. (One of the Consumer Product Safety commissioners mused publicly about a ban on future gas stoves, but the idea was immediately shot down by his superiors.) Regardless, the House GOP leaders’ cooked-up stove crisis had the desired effect of causing everybody to retreat behind party lines.

At a House Rules Committee hearing Monday afternoon on what Republicans called the Biden administration's "proposal to ban gas stoves," Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.) tore into what she called "this whole insane, ridiculous gas-stove conspiracy theory. It is so absurd. It really is off the charts even for this House majority." She closed her remarks: "This is bulls---. Sorry."

On the Republican side of the panel, Rep. Thomas Massie (Ky.) tried to burn Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

"Mr. Pallone, do you own a gas stove?" Massie demanded. "Does it meet the new standards or not?"

Pallone allowed that he hadn't "checked the stove before I came here" but reminded Massie that the improved efficiency standard "doesn't affect any stove that you have now."

Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.) gave the half-baked bills the ridicule they deserved, offering the Rules Committee several amendments, because "I don't think the bills go far enough." He proposed renaming the bill " ‘The Appliance Bill of Rights,’ to put it on par with some of our most important rights as Americans." He also proposed erecting "a stainless steel, six-burner double oven in Statuary Hall" to give gas stoves "the honor that they deserve."

The House had returned to pointless partisan sniping over a fake crisis addressed by legislation that stood no chance of becoming law. McCarthy's plan appeared to be working!

Then, without warning, the right-wing holdouts struck. Eleven of them voted with Democrats against the rules for debate, without which the debate could not begin. At 2 p.m., the speaker pro tempore ordered a five-minute vote. It lasted for 53 minutes as GOP leaders, upon discovering the rebellion, tried to persuade the House Freedom Caucus holdouts to relent.

The vote failed — the first such rebuke to leadership since 2002. The House went into recess. A thousand painful puns ignited. "House Republicans couldn't pass gas," ventured Politico.

For three days, the rebels went in and out of McCarthy's office. Scalise tried to placate them by promising to schedule a vote on a bill, offered by Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia at this time of daily mass shootings, to roll back gun regulations. (Clyde had claimed GOP leaders threatened to kill his bill as punishment for opposing the debt deal.) But that didn't stem the rebellion.

McCarthy gallantly placed culpability for the debacle on Scalise ("the majority leader runs the floor"), specifically the "miscalculation, or misinterpretation" with Clyde.

Scalise returned the favor, telling Punchbowl News that there's "a lot of anger" at McCarthy and the speaker has to "resolve those issues."

But trying to satisfy the extremists (who, as McCarthy noted, haven't articulated coherent demands) is pointless. As long as McCarthy attempts to appease them, any hope of actual legislative achievement will be on the back burner. And any hope for a successful speakership will go up in smoke.

Alexandra Petri: I’m not gaslighting you. I really am a safe stove.

A couple of months ago, Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) announced that they would be bringing in Tara Reade, the woman who accused Biden of sexually assaulting her in the 1990s, for a transcribed interview as part of what they called a joint inquiry by the House Oversight and Judiciary committees.

The logistics, however, just got a bit trickier. Reade has defected to Russia.

"I’d like to apply for citizenship in Russia from the president of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin," she said from Moscow on May 30 in an event hosted by the state-owned news agency Sputnik. "Hopefully, Maria Butina can help me with that from the State Duma," she added. Butina, with whom Reade shared the stage, was convicted in the United States of being an unregistered Russian agent and is now in the Russian parliament.

Reade, who hopes also to keep her U.S. passport (good luck with that), said she went to Russia after Gaetz told her, "I’m worried about your physical safety in the United States."

She spent the session in Moscow denouncing the United States for its "crashing" economy, inflation, homelessness, child poverty, decaying roads, hunger, poor medical care and "evil" determination to "warmonger" in Ukraine.

Best of all, she expressed indignation that "I was accused when I first came forward of being a Russian asset." She seemed unaware of the irony that she was, at that very moment, the star of a Russian propaganda operation.

Replied the Sputnik moderator to the aspiring defector: "The attempt by the USA government to accuse you of ties with Russia is just outrageous."

The curious case of Comrade Reade is just the latest instance in which the Venn diagram of Republican political interests and Russian propaganda interests has shown an uncomfortable amount of overlap. GOP lawmakers have repeatedly been cautioned by national security officials that they were advancing, or were targets of, Russian disinformation.

This isn't to say Republicans are wittingly spouting Russian propaganda. Nor does it mean all of the allegations they make on topics such as Hunter Biden's business dealings are necessarily false. But there's an undeniable similarity between the Russian and Republican attacks on President Biden and his policies — and the two merged in the Russian state media event featuring Reade.

Reade called herself a "whistleblower" who will be "testifying … about how the DOJ and the FBI [have been] weaponized by the Biden administration against its own citizens." House Republicans created a "weaponization" committee under Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) devoted to precisely that.

Reade alleged that the Biden administration was "infiltrating social media to suppress the truth" and particularly to "suppress" the New York Post reporting on Hunter Biden's laptop. Republicans have held numerous hearings in a fruitless quest to demonstrate that.

Reade alleged that in the "corruption" case against Biden, House investigators have "bank receipts and proof that unfortunately when Joe Biden was vice president, he was influence peddling and created shell companies." House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (Ky.) has likewise alleged that in his "Biden family corruption investigation," he found that Biden arranged an "influence-peddling" scheme through "shell companies."

Reade suggested that the Hunter Biden laptop and the weaponization matters, despite a "complete media blackout," have caused a drop in the president's "poll numbers." Comer has claimed that Biden's "poll numbers are low partly because the American people think he's corrupt, and they sense a coverup."

And, of course, Reade said Americans are opposed to spending "so much money giving weapons to Ukraine." House Republicans, likewise, are vowing to block efforts in the Senate to boost funds for Ukraine.

It's too late for Reade, who has forsaken her country. "I do promise to be a good citizen," she told the Russians.

But it's not too late for Republican lawmakers to ask themselves why Putin has such a keen interest in promoting their dubious allegations against Biden.

The new House Democratic leader, Hakeem Jeffries of New York, is a skilled and fluid orator — at least when he isn't being muzzled by the new House Republican majority.

Last week, I observed that Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), taking a turn presiding over the House as speaker pro tempore, took the extraordinary step of gaveling down the minority leader in the middle of his speech. It turns out Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) did the same thing to Jeffries a month earlier.

Speakers pro tempore will frequently admonish a lawmaker who refers to other members directly (Jeffries's offense was to ask Republicans, "Why do you lecture us?") to "direct his remarks to the chair." But the admonition almost always comes after the offender has yielded the floor.

In a complaint to the House parliamentarian this week that was also sent to McCarthy, Rep. Jim McGovern (Mass.), top Democrat on the House Rules committee, noted that, under Democratic control of the chamber, McCarthy had committed the same offense Jeffries did more than a dozen times — but was never gaveled down mid-speech. McGovern called the new GOP tactic "a tool of the majority to silence and disrupt the minority."

Selective application of the rules of decorum has been a prominent feature of the new majority. A couple of weeks ago, when a Democratic lawmaker heckled Scalise on the floor, the speaker pro tempore pounded the gavel and said, "Members are reminded to abide by decorum of the House." Democrats guffawed. Why? Because the speaker pro tempore demanding "decorum" was Jewish Space Lasers Greene, fresh from attacking a witness for not being a biological mother and from baselessly accusing a Democratic colleague of an affair with a Chinese spy.

And with that, I yield back.